Admittedly, I had to do a bit of research before tackling this post. It’s been several years since my history of theatre courses, and Theatre of the Absurd was not studied as heavily as say, oh Restoration or, of course, Greece, the birth place of Western theatre. I’m not an art critique nor have I had experience ever truly studying art especially abstract art so I can only write from the perspective of open observation and report not as a critic but as a recorder of what I experienced.
My friend Jason Doizé, a Louisiana transplant, turned the front of his house into an art gallery, with the help of his girlfriend, he hopes to show the new innovative works of local artists in Portland, Or. The studio is called FalseFront Studio and it is located in NE Portland. FalseFront, at times, focuses on highlighting, the unusual, cutting edge, and just basic over my head kind of stuff. Future_Death_Toll is a Portland, collaborative artist group. They made their “theatrical art debut” of their performance piece SUPERBASS [a tragedy] last night at the studio.
In order to fully understand the driving purpose behind the show I felt that I had to look up the “Theatre of Cruelty” developed by Antonin Artaud. Theatre of Cruelty falls under the umbrella of the theatre of the absurd and like much of the absurd the idea is not to tell a story so much as to bombard the audience with an emotional reaction, that may or not make you think, but it will physically displeasure or pleasure your senses. Theatre of Cruelty was not meant to be violent like say the Grand Guignol or gore films of today, but to strip away the false reality that humans have built around ourselves by disrupting our senses through the use of sound, scatological language and to make us reach our primal state;, for Artaud theatre was to be like the shamanic magic that screams the primitive back to the surface.
My reasonings for recalling this time of theatre is that FDT has dedicated its written program to Artaud’s ideas behind the theatre of Cruelty, and since it was a mess of screaming electronic sounds and crackling noises I felt I could not do this post justice without looking back to the past to see what this art collective has borrowed and built upon.
My layman’s view? To me it was like watching nerdy technology geeks have an uber art experience. This is not an insult, you should have seen what these guys built out of a gameboy, multiple sound boards, computers screens with programs I have never seen, webcams, a sound board built out of cardboard and electronic knobs and turn dials, an electric drum kit with drumsticks made out of ken doll legs, an old tape recorder, orange rotary phones with distorters built into the receivers, and guitar petals galore, not to mention, wires everywhere and two flat screens built into a table top. These boys raided Free Geek, all the resale game stores, and local yard sales to build this cacophony of sound. I use cacophony correctly in the sense that it was not a pretty sound. FDT dressed in orange construction jackets and wore orange face scarves over their mouths giving the appearance of anarchist construction workers that was both modern futuristic and past future visions from say 2001: Space Odyssey. (one of my favorite films-which one can argue borrows from elements of Theatre of Cruelty.)
The performance was broken down into three acts, two scenes each, and amazingly even though there were no clear breaks in the scenes or acts I was able to get an idea of where they were in the show. It was well rehearsed, although I sometimes wondered if they were aware of what they were trying to convey and what was being conveyed. I knew I was supposed to be uncomfortable, which I always am with screaming high pitched sounds: I thought the Melvins were personally trying to kill me, but I will say afterward once they brought me to that brink of mental murder I found the experience brilliant. Unlike the Melvins, I think FDT fell a bit short with creating this experience, but it doesn’t mean they wont get there.
I am not a fan of the Theatre of Cruelty, but I do think that movements like these are important in the art world, and our world. For Artaud, who suffered from an array of mental disabilities, this may have been what the world was like to him, and it was his way to touch people, to connect, and there are others who may view the world in this manner regardless of their mental stasis. All of us are constantly bombarded with sounds and images that blind our views and perceptions and it is good to have artists come in and blow that stuff up from time to time to help us from falling into the ruts of false perceptions and realities.
Will I check out FDT again? Eh, I don’t think I’d put them on the top of my list, but that only has to do with my own opinion and interest, but if you have interest in the avant garde, absurd, and abstract or just want to experience art as a spectacle of sound I think they are worth seeing or at least enough to walk around their electronic palette, seriously technology geeks will love to see what these guys have built out of everything electronic.